FAN'S EYE VIEW: No 154 Oxford United

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The Independent Online
A friend supports Oxford United. She followed them through the "glory" years of the mid-Eighties, three seasons in the First Division and 1986 League Cup winners. It won't happen again.

Much has changed since then. In 1985 First Division clubs won increased voting rights. In the following years the "glamour" clubs increased their power and wealth, leading to the formation of the FA Premier League when the First Division jettisoned the remainder of the professional game.

Since 1980 alone, such unfashionable clubs as Brighton, Luton, Notts County, Oldham, Swansea and Watford have played in the top flight. Success was limited, but their fans' dreams were at least partially fulfilled. Today, however, the greed of those running our big clubs has all but finished the aspirations of teams such as Oxford. The Football Association, repeatedly outmanoeuvred by the elite, have failed to address the imbalance and its consequences. As protectors of the professional game, they have been blindingly inept.

On Tuesday, three Premiership clubs meet with the chief executive of the FA Premier League, Rick Parry, to discuss establishing "feeder clubs", whereby big teams would take over small ones. The stamp of approval which says that some clubs will always be second class - the dream officially killed off. Finally we have it, football clubs as corporate predators.

Naturally, it won't be portrayed as that. It will be sold as a benign helping hand from rich to poor.

The widening financial gap will inevitably lead some smaller clubs to either go part-time or into liquidation. So Newcastle approach Hartlepool, in the guise of a white knight offering some kind of assistance.

Who coaches them, how, and who pays them can be worked out later. Then Newcastle offer to redevelop Hartlepool's stadium and clear their debts, taking a controlling financial interest in return. Hartlepool share Newcastle's commercial and sponsorship deals but keep their name, and play in their traditional colours, thus retaining some semblance of independence, but it is tokenistic.

Newcastle fans, unable to get tickets for the first team, can follow Hartlepool instead (the two sides rarely play home matches at the same time so supporters can watch both sides anyway). Both sets of fans subscribe to Newcastle's' cable TV channel watching the first and `B' teams.

Thus will entire communities lose their footballing identity to satisfy the desire to remain forever rich, to be "competitive" and to remove the element of chance from a football match because, as Sir John Hall never tires of saying, football is a business - and you can't make sound business decisions in a climate of uncertainty.

Football must oppose moves to create "feeder clubs". Fans have the right to demand that the FA protect the wider interests of the professional game for once and say no to these moves. They should bolster regulations preventing an individual from owning more than one club.

Then they should summon club chairmen and owners and make it clear that the game will be run for the benefit of all and not just the super rich. If the FA can't fulfil this most basic of roles that, as guardians of the game is entrusted to them, then history, as written in Hartlepool and dozens of other towns and cities, will never forgive them.

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